I saw a video of this woman eating a sunflower head that she harvested from her garden, and I was so blown away at the human experience. What person in history saw a sunflower and thought, “I want to eat that”? And yet, there I was…watching this wonderful hippy lady BBQ her sunflower head as she smeared it with homemade aioli. She lifted it off the grill with her tongs and proceeded to eat it like a savory cheese burger. What a time to be alive!
So, to pay homage to all my brave hippy souls who love to eat more than just a bag of chips on a Friday night, here is a list of edible flowers and how you can prepare them to add to your favorite foods.
(Special note before we begin, please do not harvest flowers that you have not personally grown yourself. I would hate for you to harvest flowers that have been sprayed for pesticides or are not bred for eating. Before you ingest anything, please do a little bit of research just to be on the safe side).
Calendula is an edible marigold plant with a deep orange-yellow color. Its petals are used to sprinkle over dishes like salads, soups, and grain-based dishes for color. The flavor of edible marigolds is described as being somewhat bitter or peppery. All you need to do is wash the flower heads and tear the pedals off the head. You can chop them or simply sprinkler on to your food for extra flavor. You can add it to dishes such as salads, scrambled eggs, quiche and frittatas. They also go well with dishes that include chives.
Carnations are a variety of dianthus, also known as “pinks,” and are often used for bouquets and boutonnieres. The petals of carnations are used as a garnish in sweet and savory dishes, but can also be used in baked goods or to decorate a cake. Since the 17th century, carnation petals have been used to make the French liqueur Chartreuse. Their flavor is slightly sweet and you can sauté or candy them and use them as a garnish for soups, cupcakes, sorbets, and ice cream.
Chamomile is a flower with white petals and a yellow center similar to a daisy, and is commonly used to make a calming tea. I personally grow these in my back yard and these little flowers smell just like the tea bags I buy from the store. So calming! The whole chamomile flower is sometimes used as a garnish for savory dishes. People often describe its flavor as slightly apple-like or grassy. You can use this flower to flavor up your ice cream, add to liqueurs like vermouth, and of course, you can dry them out to turn them into tea.
Cornflowers sometimes called “bachelor’s button,” are known for their intensely rich blue color. They’re primarily used as a garnish, though their petals are used in Lady Grey tea and to flavor baked goods. They’re described as having a slightly peppery or spicy taste.
Hibiscus are often used to attract butterflies to the garden, but their petals and calyxes (the ball-like part at the base of the flower) are also edible. Hibiscus flowers can be used to make hot or cold tea, like the Mexican agua de Jamaica. In fact, hibiscus could make one of the healthiest teas you can drink thanks to the flower’s abundant antioxidant content. Many Mexican recipes also use hibiscus petals in savory dishes like tacos and quesadillas. Hibiscus has a tart flavor and is high in vitamin C.
Johnny jump-ups are often called wild pansies because of their relation to the pansy. Their color range includes blue, yellow, purple, white, and orange, and they have a minty flavor. As such, these flowers are often used as a garnish for drinks like mocktails. You can candy the flowers and use them in cake or syrup or as added flavor to violet tea. If you don’t have a sweet tooth, you can add them to your favorite vinegars, butters, spreads, or jellies.
Lavender is well known for its beautiful purple coloring, distinct fragrance, and true flowery flavor. It’s often used in teas, lemonades, and other beverages, and even in certain coffee drinks. You’ll also find lavender in baked goods, rubs, marinades, sauces, cookies, and sorbets. Lavender is a truly versatile flower and you can use it in a wide variety of foods.
Nasturtiums are highly versatile in that their flowers, leaves, stems, and young seed pods are all edible. You can use them in salads, to make infused vinegars, and to garnish drinks and recipes. Their leaves can be used like other salad greens or fresh herbs, while the seed pods are sometimes pickled and used like capers. The flavor of nasturtium is generally described as being peppery like a radish.
Pansies are cheery little flowers commonly used as a garnish for beverages, to decorate baked goods, and in some types of salads as well as Asian spring rolls. They have a very flowery and fragrant taste. Many people also use them in sandwiches (my personal favorite is the turkey sandwich).
Rose petals and rosehips (the bottom part of the flower) are often used to make teas, syrups, jams, and the like. They’re also frequently used in desserts, sauces, and soups. The taste of a rose is flowery, fragrant, and slightly tart (mainly the rosehips) due to their high vitamin C content.
Squash blossoms, also called zucchini flowers or courgette flowers, can come from any summer or winter squash. They usually come in orange and yellow shades and have more of a vegetable-like flavor, like a milder version of the squash itself. Squash blossoms are soft and delicate. They may be used as a topping for pizzas, sautéed like other vegetables, or even stuffed like a pepper or mushroom.